Looking beyond the war23 February 2023
Ukraine is currently focused on emergency restoration but already its leadership is talking about the country’s potential to be an energy powerhouse for Europe after hostilities end. Janet Wood reports.
Power engineers have been working round the clock to restore supplies after a series of deliberate attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, with the electricity system a particular target. First Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Yenin said on 27 December that over 702 critical infrastructure facilities in Ukraine had been hit since the start of the full-scale invasion, including gas pipelines and electrical substations and infrastructure has continued to be a Russian target since then. January 2023 has seen Russian attacks being increasingly focused on power stations, resulting in a capacity deficit of about 4.5 GW at times of peak demand.
Volodymyr Kudrytskiy, chief executive of Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s TSO, told the UK Financial Times that, “the attacks are planned and implemented not only by the Russian military but also by Russian energy specialists,” noting that Russian power engineers know the Ukrainian network very well, because until 2022 the two were interconnected.
Unplanned blackouts mean that areas of the country suffer hours without power along with water and communications outages as power cuts hit related infrastructure.
On 23 December Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal praised the country’s power engineers as “ the backbone of Ukraine” as they restore supplies as fast as possible, both across the country after air raids and in territories liberated by the Ukraine armed forces. Power engineers have to carry out the restoration in close co-operation with the armed forces or first responders who have to determine whether it is safe to work. DTEK, a privately owned power company in Ukraine, said that in September-December, energy facilities were subjected to 22 Russian attacks. As a result, 26 energy workers were injured, and three died.
After the February invasion, Ukrainian power companies sourcing replacement equipment quickly found out that there was no substantial global reserve of power network assets, according to Vadym Utki, project manager at DTEK. What is more, new assets such as cabling and transformers have a lead time that can be 18 months or more. The challenge in replacing damaged equipment is exacerbated by the fact that parts of the Ukrainian network date back to the USSR period and not all available equipment is compatible. Transformers have been among the assets targeted by Russian strikes and Ukraine did have reserve stocks of 750 kV transformers, but these have now been deployed and engineers now focus on repairing the existing units, the FT reports. However some equipment has come from neighbouring countries such as Lithuania and Azerbaijan, which have both provided transformers.
Faced with long lead times, Ukraine has pleaded with power companies and the industry’s supply chain to re-prioritise their production so that Ukraine can receive equipment quickly. That has borne fruit in at least one case, in a deal set up by Hitachi Energy Ukraine, Hitachi Energy Poland and the DTEK Group by which 52 transformers arrived in Ukraine at the end of December. DTEK praised “unprecedented help and support from Hitachi Energy, which has re-ordered its transformer production to ensure the orders for Ukraine are the highest priority” and in addition manufactured and delivered the equipment three times faster than normal.
DTEK has previously asked Western power companies decommissioning power assets, such as coal plant, to send decommissioned equipment to Ukraine, and it further offered to send engineers to sites overseas to help with dismantling and removing components that could be used in Ukraine.
Shmyhal said in December that more than 200 cargoes with energy equipment had already arrived. The European Commission and European Energy Community’s Ukraine Energy Support Fund has so far collected €32 million to cover the most urgent needs. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism’s assistance goes beyond generators and transformers, with a wide variety of items such as circuit breakers, wiring and cables, supplies and equipment necessary for the repair, maintenance and functioning of the energy infrastructure. Around 56 500 different items have been sent to Ukraine.
Alongside restoring the network, Ukraine has received hundreds of thousands of generators – some 300 000 in December alone, according to one report. The majority are domestic-sized and small enough to transport in bulk, but there are also larger generator units that can power important facilities such as hospitals or key parts of the water supply network. That has helped Ukraine maintain these key services and also set up ‘resilience centres’ with heat and power in areas that are otherwise blacked out.
However, it introduces a new requirement – to manage distribution of fuel across the country for the thousands of generators. On 3 January Shmyhal also announced legislation to be introduced in 2023 that would reform the State Reserve. This strategic stockpile of materials needed to maintain and repair critical national infrastructure will include establishing minimum reserves of oil and petroleum products, to ensure their continuous supply to the domestic market.
Other support for the energy sector has included options that will make the most of power when it is available, for example EC president Ursula von der Leyen announced that the Commission will mobilise around €30 million for the purchase of up to 30 million energy saving lightbulbs for Ukraine.
Looking forward to restoration
Long term, Ukraine’s reconstructed electricity system is set to look very different – and may prove a template for countries that are moving from a centralised system to one based on distributed renewables. In his 23 December speech Shymal said “Yesterday, Ukrainian diplomats and power engineers celebrated their professional holiday. These are people of strategically important professions today.”
Shmyhal talked about the future power sector during a cabinet meeting on 3 January, when he was quoted by Reuters, saying “Plans for the decarbonisation of energy and the green transformation remain relevant. The war has made these challenges even more urgent. We will use the potential of renewable energy – solar, wind, hydrogen generation, hydrogen technologies – more actively. The Russian attacks push us towards fundamental reform – building a decentralised energy system. It will be less vulnerable to enemy attacks.” He also said, “We are talking about building mini-power plants and small generation facilities, integrated into the existing power grid.”
He was reiterating comments made by President Zelensky in his annual presidential address to the Ukrainian parliament on
28 December. The president said, “we set ourselves the goal of becoming a leader in the transformation of our energy sector to counter any threats, any challenges – military, political, economic or even climatic.
“We have to become – and we will become, as there is no other option – a leader in building modern green energy. This will allow us to create a decentralised energy system that cannot be destroyed by anything, any missile strikes.
“Today – everyone can see – it is dangerous when cities depend on several large thermal or power plants. A modern city needs decentralised sources of energy. Only green energy can really provide this.”
Building on comments about decentralisation and digitalisation, Zelensky said “The entire territory of our state needs reconstruction of those infrastructure, energy, social sphere and other objects that do not meet modern security requirements” and asserted that Ukraine’s experience would make it “a leader in the digital transformation of our state and society.” The country has turned its digital expertise to support the war effort but had previously been a key supplier of digital services – the Russian invasion delayed delivery of a new platform for managing reserve and response in the EU’s internal energy market, which was being developed under contract in Ukraine.
Before hostilities began Ukraine had been in the process of tendering for wind farm construction. As well as interest from state-owned enterprises, DTEK has also vowed to develop 30 GW of renewable capacity within eight years, and recently presented this “30 by 2030” initiative at WEF 2022, Davos.
However, many of Ukraine’s renewable energy assets and opportunities are in wind-rich and flat areas in the country’s southeast that are currently occupied by Russia. The Ukraine Association for Renewable Energy said half of the country’s 9.2 GW of existing renewable energy assets is in areas where active hostilities are taking place and most are out of action.
But Zelensky stressed that Ukraine saw its strength in the energy sector as a post-war asset: “Having a leadership position in such energy and developing our nuclear generation, as well as hydrogen energy, we will be able to provide for the needs of Ukraine, and in peacetime - the needs of Europe. And this will be a historic strengthening of Ukraine’s role in Europe. We can, and therefore must, become one of the guarantors of European energy security. And this is .. a task for tomorrow.”
With these assets, he suggested that the cost of reconstruction was equally an investment opportunity and noted that priority would be given to companies which had “supported Ukraine during the war and which left the Russian market”, saying “this is fair”.
Sources worldwide prove generous with generators
Above: Belgian TSO Elia is one of many organisations that have donated generators to Ukraine
More than half a million generators have now been delivered to Ukraine and President Zelensky recently signed an order that would remove value added tax and customs duty on the imports of power generators (as well as Starlink equipment) until May 2023. Some generators have been sent from particular organisations to their Ukrainian counterparts. Among the sources:
- In January the EU was set to deliver 40 new large generators to Ukraine from the rescEU reserve to provide uninterrupted power to 30 hospitals across the country. It also announced it would deliver 100 small to medium power generators from France, 19 generators from Slovakia, 23 generators from Germany, 252 from Lithuania and four emergency power systems from Poland, while Switzerland sent 40 generators.
- Kazakhstani businesses donated 41 generators for Ukrainian healthcare facilities, the Health Ministry reported.
- Mashav, Israel’s national aid agency, donated 17 generators to Ukraine for use in hospitals in the Kherson area.
- The pope’s social commissioner, Curia Cardinal Konrad Krajewski brought relief supplies including generators when he spent Christmas in Kyiv on the Pope’s behalf.
- Japan’s Rakuten Group and Koshin Ltd announced on 22 December that they would donate 500 generators to be shipped from Japan by the end of the year.
- Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia announced launch of a regional partnership with the Dnipropetrovsk region and donated 370 generators.
- German railway carrier Deutsche Bahn sent 63 generators to Ukrainian state railroad JSC Ukrzaliznytsia and is preparing another 325. The generators will be used to provide electricity to passengers and workplaces of Ukrainian railway workers.
- The UAE announced in December that it would send 2500 household generators, with power outputs of 3.5-8 kW.
- As of May 2022, the UK government said it had supplied 856 generators to Ukraine. This includes an initial batch of 569 mobile generators supplied by five companies (Generator Power, Electricity North West, Woodlands Power, SP Energy Networks, and Finning) and 287 purchased by the government from Merseyside-based supplier Speedy Hire.